Blue Canoe Records latest release from Trey Wright is a ripping set of originals that moves from solid, classic jazz to sweet, sympathetic ballads with ease. The compositions on Songs From Oak Avenue deserve notice as does the playing of this group of veterans.
Songs from Oak Avenue is Mr. Wright’s second solo release on Blue Canoe Records and his follow-up to Thinking Out Loud (2009). This release is comprised of brilliant melodies and creative interaction with the sparse instrumentation. Each player, including Atlanta-based Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Mace Hibbard and expert rhythm section Marc Miller (bass) and Marlon Patton (drums/engineer), is given ample space to express ideas freely and dynamically…and all do so with mindful abandon. Mr. Wright is a jazz guitarist, composer and recording artist based in Roswell, GA. He is the co-founder of the Athens/Atlanta based jam band Squat. The group is a six-time winner of Best Jazz Band at the Flagpole Athens Music Awards and has been a featured artist at the Atlanta Jazz Festival, Bel Chere, The Twilight Athens Jazz Festival, The Cherry Blossom Festival, Harvest Midtown and Athfest. Several of Mr. Wright’s compositions with the group have received international airplay and have been featured on Sirius/XM radio and NPR’s All Things Considered.
Mr. Wright also performs freelance in the Athens and Atlanta area and has performed with Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets), John Patitucci, Joe Lovano, Corey Christiansen and Darmon Meader of the New York Voices. He has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Jazz A Vienne and the World Sacred Music Festival in Bangalore, India. As a solo guitarist and with his trio, Mr. Wright has been a featured performer at the Athens Music and Arts Festival, The Lake Oconee Jazz Festival and the Atlanta Jazz Festival. Additionally, Mr. Wright is the guitar instructor at Kennesaw State University based in Kennesaw, GA.
Songs From Oak Avenue opens powerfully with “Boomerang”. Sam Skelton’s lush, industrious saxophone swings against Marc Miller’s walking bass pulse while Wright injects color in support of the melody. As the track unfolds, Mr. Skelton’s easily accessible melody expands to more challenging improvisational licks until finally giving way to a soaring electric solo from Trey Wright. The track ends in back and forth between the two that alternates between conversational style and a doubling of melody that ends the track as a warm invitation for the rest of Songs From Oak Avenue.
“Joni” is another distinguished track that highlights the talents of Trey Wright. “It is named and inspired by Joni Mitchell”, says Wright. “I have always been fascinated with her music…I was trying to emulate the floating feel and stream of consciousness approach of her music.” It opens with a subdued melody and tastefully chosen introduction to the inspirational talents of Grammy winner Mace Hibbard on the sax. The middle of this more contemporary tune this talented group is firing on all cylinders with all fully engaged and pushing each other forward against a rhythm section that delivers with forceful musicality.
Songs From Oak Avenue is a thoughtful, distinct offering put together by a group of veteran players that bring the right vibe at the right time. It is tastefully improvised and spacious while simultaneously thick and substantive. Trey Wright and his team are a group to be watched and Songs From Oak Avenue is an album to be heard…again and again.
“No Small Thing” opens with the classic in the pop rock world, Aqualung’s Brighter Then Sunshine. “…suddenly you’re mine”, sings Jennifer Carrozza as the listener is drawn into the dynamic odyssey. With the use of lush instrumentation, Mr. Carrozza sets up the voyage perfectly. The Carrozza’s fall effortlessly into the McCartney standard Blackbird. The Carrozza connection of piano and vocals is haunting and memorable…adding a novel take on the classic. From there, J-Mood travels effortlessly from Sting to Neil Young to winning melodies of their own. Of note, John Carrozza’s own Hope Restored composition is an emotional contemporary jazz number with energizing give-and-take between Sam Skelton’s genius sax and John Carrozza’s expressive piano stylings.
No Small Thing is a smart, diverse must-have that falls right into the spiritual hip pocket of the audience’s subconscious. Classic and contemporary at the same time, The Carrozza team leave an important impression while using all the colors in the palette. It is, indeed, No Small Thing.
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Live From Austin, the latest album from trombonist Ron Westray and trumpeter Thomas Heflin. The album features internationally known artists such as Neal Caine, regular bassist with Harry Connick Jr., Eric Revis, featured bass player with the Branford Marsalis quartet, and drummer Adonis Rose, who toured extensively with Nicholas Payton. The group also features three of the top jazz musicians in Austin Texas: Elias Haslanger, Peter Stoltzman and David Sierra.
Heflin and Westray recorded the album in 2009 while living in Austin, TX. At the time Heflin was completing his doctorate in music and Westray was serving as professor of jazz at the University of Texas. The recording project was conceived as a way to capture the energy of live jazz in Austin, a city known as the “live music capital of the world.” It felt appropriate to make the recording at the jazz club, The Elephant Room, which was selected as one of the top ten jazz venues in the United States by Wynton Marsalis in USA TODAY. The recording features all original compositions from the pens of Westray, Heflin and Austin jazz star Elias Haslanger.
Ron Westray is already one of the most highly regarded trombonists of his generation. In addition to serving as lead trombonist with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, he is known for his collaborative album with Wycliffe Gordon on the Atlantic label entitled Bone Structure. In past years, he also toured as a member of the Marcus Roberts Quintet and the Mingus Big Band, as well as performed with a roster of jazz notables too long to list. In 2008, Westray released Medical Cures for the Chromatic Commands of the Inner City. Ron is currently an Associate Professor at York University (Toronto, CA) and also serves as the Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance.
Rising star Thomas Heflin has already gained a fan base internationally with his style and command of the trumpet. In 2005, he placed second in the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition in Seattle, Washington. Two years later, he released his debut album, Symmetry. Marco Maimeri's of Italy’s “Jazz Magazine,” described the CD as "… the extension of a charismatic leader with an innovative style, who has the heritage of Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, but who does not forget the lessons of Freddie Hubbard…" In 2009, Heflin released his follow-up recording with the jazz collective “The New Five.” “Live from Austin” marks his third release on Blue Canoe Records. He currently lives in New York City where he works as the Program Manager of the Precollege Division at the Manhattan School of Music.
J-Mood Jazz Band takes these holiday classics for a fresh spin through the winter snow. These superstar musicians have a warm, inviting vibe that is irresistible. The interplay between the piano sax and vocals is remarkable. Note the opening track, "Jingle Bells". This standard melody jumps to life as the conversation between Mr. John Carrozza's piano and Mrs. Jen Carrozza's vocals commences. The listener is eventually carried away when guest saxophonist Sam Skelton chimes in with his smooth, rich solo response.
"Let It Snow" is the perfect follow-up to the up tempo rendition of "Jingle Bells". One can feel the warm fire crackle as the mellow piano rolls in response to the call of the traditional melody.
"Welcome to Our World" warms the listener to the true meaning of Christmas. "...perfect son of God, welcome to our world...", sings Mrs. Carrozza with her lullaby-sweet voice. This is a truly touching version of this modern gospel testimony.
J-Mood takes us for a few more spins around the snow-laden sleigh track with "Sleigh Ride" and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm". You would never that J-Mood hails from the Southern USA with their enthrallment over cold winters. Fortunately for the listener, these magnificent musicians have given us a glimpse into their chilly world...and have managed to heat things up in the process.
"Look What the Cats Drug In" opens with ripping guitar work from Dan Baraszu on "Neutron Star", a song inspired by Stevie Wonder's "Too High". There is no slowing down with the complex harmonies by Eugene Maslov on "Last Ray". Blue Canoe's stable of talented artists is further exposed in "Symmetry 1" with the fluid, highly polished lines of virtuoso trumpeter Thomas Heflin. The album continues with unimaginable horn players Bryan Lopes and Ron Westray as well as the stellar compositional and orchestral arranging of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra. The compilation brings it home rhythmically with percussionists Philip Smith and Jimmy "Junebug" Jackson. Listen for the famous Jimmy Smith on the B3 on the final tune by Junebug, "Save Your Love For Me (live)".
"Look What the Cats Drug In" is a vibrant exploration of the post-bop gems in Blue Canoe Records' vast and ever-growing catalog. Quite literally, "Look What the Cats Drug In" displays the finest musicianship of modern jazz.
"Symmetry", the debut of jazz trumpeter Thomas Heflin, explores the vast possibilities of contemporary post bop jazz through a carefully balanced program of original compositions and thoughtfully selected cover tunes. The self produced cd admirably showcases Heflin's brilliant, highly praised improvisational skills as well as the formidable talents of his band, including four tracks featuring the late world renowned pianist James Williams.
A rising star in the jazz world, Heflin made waves on the international jazz scene in 2005 when he placed second in the prestigious Carmine Caruso International Trumpet Solo Competition in Seattle. One reviewer described his playing as "a very fluid approach... generating lines in a seamless, highly polished manner that is really a joy to experience."
Among the original compositions are "Symmetry", the title track which opens and closes the album; "Salutation", a piece based on Kalidasa's poem "Salutation to the Dawn", and the ballad "Eastern Star", dedicated to James Williams. Heflin also covers material ranging from Louis Armstrong's anthem "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" to Cole Porter's "Night and Day" to Stevie Wonder's "Ma Cherie Amour".
"Symmetry" is aptly titled: Thomas Heflin has achieved a fine sense of proportion through his original pieces and covers. And though it is one of the last recordings James Williams made before he passed away, perhaps a new jazz legend, Thomas Heflin, is emerging in his own right.